Yikes: Two Delta Boeing 757s Almost Collided At JFK

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Two Delta Air Lines aircraft were in a near-miss at New York’s JFK airport last Friday evening, as one blocked the runway while the other was already accelerating for takeoff. The swift actions of air traffic controllers at the airport prevented a disaster from occurring and no passengers were hurt. The FAA is investigating.

Delta 757
Two Delta 757s almost collided at JFK. Photo: Delta

What happened?

Having previously landed and begun its taxi off the runway, Delta Air Lines flight 300, a Boeing 757-200, was contacted by ATC with instructions. The controller said,

“Delta 300, hold short of runway 22R and JULIET. What is your gate number?”

Delta Air Lines responds with, “Twenty-two.”

The controller then gives the all clear to another Delta flight, DAL 253, to take off via runway 22R. Delta 253, another 757-200, confirms this clearance and begins its take off roll.

However, there is a problem. Delta 300 appears to have commenced its taxi to the gate and is in the process of crossing runway 22R!

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Delta 757
A pilot misunderstood the ATC instructions. Photo: Brian Correira via Wikimedia

“Delta! Delta 300!!” shouts the air traffic controller, seeing that the aircraft is halfway across the runway and completely blocking the path of the rapidly accelerating DAL 253. Thankfully Delta 253 has received an alert to the problem and aborts its take off in time. The pilot advises the tower controller,

“Delta 253 is aborting takeoff.”

Understandably the controller is not very happy with the situation. She immediately jumps on comms to find out what on Earth happened.

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“Delta 300, you were instructed to hold short of runway 22R.”

Unbelievably, the pilot attempts to blame the error on the controller, saying,

“Yeah, you say that, but I also repeated back cleared to cross, but I’m sorry about that. We missed that.”

The controller stands her ground, stating that DAL 300 actually did not. She again asks for the gate number, to which both pilots respond “Twenty-two.” The captain again attempts to pin the blame on the ATC, saying,

“You asked us that and I also… you said cleared to cross and I repeated that. I thought that’s what you said.”

Later, the controller notifies the pilots that they have potentially committed a deviation, and asks them to call into the tower. This is known as a ‘Brasher Warning’.  You can hear the entire exchange along with a helpful animation at the video below:

Who’s in the wrong?

The FAA is opening an investigation into what went wrong at JFK last week. Clearly, this was a close call and could have ended in disaster. These sorts of incidents should never be able to happen, so what went wrong?

From the audio we’ve heard, it appears that the pilot misheard the instructions from the tower to hold at the junction with the runway. He instead thought he had been instructed to cross. The failsafe in this situation is that he should have repeated back to the ATC the instruction to hold, and the ATC should have listened out for the repeat.

Delta at JFK
JFK is a major hub for Delta. Photo: Ad Meskens via Wikimedia

The Brasher Warning issued suggests that ATC believed the pilot was at fault. A Brasher Warning is a bit like getting your Miranda rights before being arrested. It gives the pilots some time to collect their thoughts and warns them that what they say on that phone call to the tower will likely be recorded and could be used in court against them.

However, there is some fault on the controller’s side also. That ATC should have ensured that the pilot read back their hold short instructions. Ultimately, the FAA will decide who was to blame for this hair raising near miss.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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